Thursday, October 29, 2009

Plenty of Lithium Outside China

Following up on yesterday's post about electric cars in China, an astute observer pointed out the possibility that China may have already cornered the market on the rare earth metals necessary for hybrid and battery technology. (See comments below this post.)

I just happened across this short photo essay at about Bolivia's supplies of lithium which are estimated to be 50 to 70 percent of the world's known reserves (a figure that surprised even me!). Lithium is, of course, a major component of the lithium-ion batteries used in mobile phones, laptops and most of the electric cars currently in development.

So it appears that China will not have anything near the "monopoly" on lithium that is causing the China-haters to wring their hands. Then again, Bolivia's president Morales is close pals with Venezuela's Chavez, so we can be certain they won't be giving their lithium away either.

Also, Bolivia doesn't exactly have the best record of extracting natural resources for the benefit of its citizens. Despite abundant sources of petroleum and natural gas, Bolivia suffers from a "resource curse" which is partly responsible for making Bolivia the poorest country in South America.

So, while it does appear that China's sources of rare earth metals will give it somewhat of an advantage, it doesn't have a monopoly on them. And, of course, even a monopoly on these metals is still no guarantee that the most successful EV technology will ultimately come out of China.


  1. It's well known that lithium is one of the most common elements on earth. It is for sure not included in the "rare earth" package.

    It is also well known that china does not have a "monopoly" on these rare elements, just that they were far smarter and forward looking than everyone else, and developed the infustructe to mine them. Indeed these elements (the rare ones, not lithium) can be found elesewhere, however it would takes years and massive investment to develop the infustructure necessary. These years are enough to give China the advantage.

    It is not clear why you name "china haters", it is simply an opinion trying to read the markets. And as a "China Lover" I'm interested in China and how things are going on over there. As simple as that.

  2. Anonymous:

    Thanks for your comments.

    If it were truly "well known that lithium is one of the most common elements on earth", then I don't think we would have seen so many stories in recent months with claims to the contrary.

    The facts, as you present them, may be well known to you, but they weren't to me, nor apparently were they to many others. Having found some evidence that the claims made in recent news stories were unfounded, my only intention here was to bring that to light.

    By "China haters", I refer to people who took this idea of China's supposed monopoly on lithium and tried to turn it into another fearmongering story of how the "commies" are trying to rule the world.

    As for me, I'm neither a lover nor a hater of China. It is what it is. I am just here trying to understand how it works.


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